Bill Banning Reparative Therapy in N.J. Approved by Assembly

Prohibits Licensed Therapists from Performing Conversion Therapy on Minors

An Assembly panel, The Women and Children’s Committee, in the New Jersey State Legislature on June 13, 2013, has approved a measure that disallows licensed therapists from practicing conversion therapy on any person under the age of 18 – even with parental permission, The bill will next go to the Assembly and Senate for votes.

Late last month, the N.J. Senate was due to vote on the measure, but the vote was held up so some unspecified changes that could be made to the legislation.  The measure is backed by the American Psychological Association and is expected to be approved by Governor Christie.

Controversial practice, but Still an Option for Many Minors

Last year, four gay men said that their gay-to-straight program included making them strip naked and attack effigies of their mothers with bats.  They have sued a Jersey City group.

The state legislature in California passed a similar bill that was signed into law in September by Governor Jerry Brown.  A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, placed the law on hold until it can consider a challenge to the issue –that the ban violates the First Amendment rights of therapists and parents. “The law is an astounding overreach by the government into the realm of counseling and would have caused irreparable harm, “said Matt Saver, the chairman of a right-wing organization that challenged the California law.

Opponents of conversion therapy say banning the practice is having the government intervene in the lives of parents and children. They believe that the states should focus instead on educating parents and children on why therapy is harmful instead of outlawing it and creating a network of unlicensed therapists. “Banning it may simply drive it underground, where it won’t even be subject to state regulation or limited to therapists who are licensed,” argues Christopher Ferguson, associate professor of psychology and criminal justice at Texas A & M International University.”

Although homosexual was removed in 1973 from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental disorders, many people still believed that reparative therapy was a solution for gay and lesbian people who wanted to change their sexual orientation.

The practice has drawn criticism from professional organization, yet states have been hesitant to ban the practice for minors.

Horror Tales From Conversion Campers

One such critic is Jason Utley. At twenty-five, he began attending a support group in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Evergreen, “helped people diminish same-sex attractions and overcome homosexual behavior.” A Mormon, Utley spent two years in the group and eventually left to pursue a relationship with another man.

His group was given prescriptive medicine for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia to treat what was regarded as an “addiction.” Utley didn’t take the medicine, but was talked into believing he’d been molested as a child, a reason for his same-gender attraction. The men were not allowed to see each other outside of Evergreen.

Like the other Evergreen members, Utley saw simultaneously licensed therapists who had been recommended by both the group and by officials of the Mormon Church.  Utley left the Church in 2006, after his two -year struggle to change his identity. As he states, “why depend on something with such little-documented success?”